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November 28, 2005


The initial set of documents in the Motor Vehicle Hazard Archives Project’s “Lap Belt Restraint” collection have been posted. Click on “Collections” and go to “Lap Belt Restraints” to view the documents.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:30 PM


The comment period for NHTSA’s plan to amend its roof-crush rule, FMVSS 216, closed Nov. 21. A few days later NHTSA posted comments received during the prior week from safety advocates, engineering experts, state officials, auto industry members and others. It was clear from the comments that most commenters were unhappy with the plan, although for widely varying reasons. Safety advocates and some engineering experts blasted it as much too little, much too late, and urged that the static test now in the standard be replaced with a dynamic test replicating real-world rollover conditions. Auto company interests generally wanted test and compliance-date aspects of the proposal weakened. Safety advocates opposed the civil-liberties preemption proposal; industry interests supported it. A state governor was critical of both the proposed standard and of NHTSA’s failure to consult with states before proposing that the standard preempt law suits against manufacturers for alleged defects in complying vehicles. (See October postings for more information on the preemption proposal.) Two U.S. senators, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa), joined in writing a letter to NHTSA critizing the proposal. "Congress mandated that NHTSA establish standards to 'reduce vehicle rollover crashes and mitigate deaths and injuries associated with such crashes.' It seems to us that this end will not be served by the new proposed rule," they said.

Typical of safety advocate views was this excerpt from the statement of Public Citizen:

“Astoundingly, NHTSA’s proposed rule, issued after three decades without an upgrade, requires only a token increase in roof strength and fails to provide an adequate level of rollover crashworthiness consistent with current technology. In fact, the proposed rule is so de minimis that 70 percent of the current vehicle fleet does not need to make any improvement to meet the proposed standards,4 and costs for vehicles requiring improvement is a measly $10.61. At a conceptual level, the proposal sets the roof strength standard without consideration of the critical role of roof crush resistance in determining the performance of other features important in protecting occupants in rollovers. This misunderstanding, which separates roof crush resistance from the dynamic event of a rollover, cripples the agency’s attempt to address rollover crashworthiness. Instead of maintaining this failed strategy, the agency should require compliance with the dolly rollover test now part of the occupant containment standard in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 208, currently an alternative means of certifying compliance with FMVSS No. 216, the roof crush resistance rule. The 208 test is conducted regularly by all of the major manufacturers and produces repeatable results from the standpoint of occupant injury. Only a dynamic test is capable of measuring the success of the standard in preventing roof crush and consequent occupant injury.”

See the full statement here.

To view all comments submitted to NHTSA in the FMVSS 216 rulemaking, do the following:

  1. Go to the DOT.
  2. Under “agency,” choose “NHTSA”.
  3. Under “calendar year,” select “2005”.
  4. Under “category,” choose “rulemaking”.
  5. In “docket subject,” write “roof crush”.
  6. Click on “search”

When the list of comments appears, click “reverse” at top of page to see most recent comments.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:25 PM


The first round of government crash tests for new model year 2006 passenger vehicles have resulted in five getting “top honors,” according to an agency statement. It recently completed the front and side impact crash tests on new vehicles already in dealer showrooms and found five vehicles--the Honda Odyssey minivan, the Hyundai Sonata four-door sedan, the Hyundai Tucson sport utility vehicle, the Mercedes Benz ML Class SUV, and the Subaru B9 Tribeca SUV all worthy of five-star ratings. The Pontiac G6 two-door Coupe took top honors in NHTSA’s rollover rating program.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:22 PM


Ford is recalling nearly 224,000 vehicles because their windshield wipers may malfunction, and nearly 226,000 vehicles, including the Ford Five Hundred sedan, because of defects that could lead to fires.

The windshield wiper recall includes the 2006 Escape, Expedition, Explorer, F-150, Ranger, Taurus, Mark LT, Navigator, Mariner, and Mountaineer vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the windshield wiper motor on the vehicles may have been produced without grease being applied to a gear. The Ford recall campaigns to fix defects on vehicles that could lead to fires include the 2005 Ford Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car, and Mercury Grand Marquis. Those models have a battery cable defect that could cause a fire. The Five Hundred, Mercury Montego, and Ford Freestyle models are being recalled to replace straps that hold their fuel tanks in place.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:20 PM


The latest edition of NHTSA’s annual round-up of motor vehicle crash and crash injury statistics and trends, a basic reference work for anyone involved with motor vehicle crash injury control, is now available at the agency’s website as a .pdf document. “Traffic Safety Facts 2004” is a large file, so be prepared to wait while it downloads.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:18 PM


According to a Detroit News report, safety engineers are charging that, “Many of Ford Motor Co.'s best-selling Explorer SUVs from the 1999 to 2001 model years likely do not meet a crucial safety requirement intended to protect passengers in rollover crashes, a safety engineering firm claimed in a petition filed with the federal government. Safety Analysis and Forensic Engineering, which performs research for plaintiffs suing automakers, says internal Ford documents show that a substantial number of 1999 to 2001 Explorers likely do not comply with the federal vehicle roof strength standard.” The full report is here.

Posted by MVHAP at 04:16 PM

November 15, 2005


In light of NHTSA’s current FMVSS 216 rulemaking concerning vehicle roof crush in rollovers, two recent appellate court opinions in cases involving SUV rollover injuries are of particular relevance, especially in view of NHTSA's proposal to bar lawsuits in injury cases involving roof crush of SUVs and other vehicles meeting its new standard. (For more information about the rulemaking, see the October "Current Developments" archive and the item below, "NHTSA Conceals Volvo-Ford Roofcrush Docs".) The appellate opinions are as follows:


--McCathern v. Toyota, in which an Oregon jury found that a Toyota 4Runner SUV was defective due to what a plaintiff’s expert testified was “a very high rollover rate commensurate with its low stability.” The jury awarded damages for the “severe permanent injuries” sustained by Linda McCathern the 1994 Toyota 4Runner in which she was a passenger rolled over. Toyota appealed the decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals and, losing there, to the Oregon Supreme Court, where again it lost. Both decisions are shown.


--Ammerman v. Ford, in which Lana and Pamela Ammerman sustained severe and permanent injuries when a 1986 Bronco II 4x4 in which they were passengers rolled over. An Indiana jury found that the Bronco was unreasonably unstable and therefore defective, and awarded the Ammerman’s punitive damages, which Ford appealed. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the award, noting evidence showing that Ford’s own engineers had attempted to have the company approve a less hazardous design. It agreed that the “continued push to production of this product after all of the internal protestation to the contrary, is the crassest form of corporate indifference to the safety of the ultimate user or consumer and constitutes gross negligence.” The Indiana and U.S. Supreme Courts refused to hear Ford’s appeal from this decision.

Posted by MVHAP at 03:49 PM


A California court has made public a 2002 product-liability case opinion in which a Honda expert, Robert Gratzinger, was charged with tampering with evidence in an injury case by attempting to “deliberately and intentionally” act to “obliterate or alter” witness marks on a seat belt latching mechanism that was “critical to determining causation” of the plaintiff’s injuries. Honda had maintained that the woman, Sarah Davis, was not wearing her belt in the accident and that this, not a defect in the belt, had resulted in her injuries. The court, however, found that Honda’s “deliberate spoliation of evidence amounts to an admission that Sarah Davis was wearing her seatbelt at the time of the accident.” It also found that Honda’s counsel participated in the spoliation. The opinion was unsealed on petition of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.

Posted by MVHAP at 10:59 AM


A new NHTSA report analyzes the impact of Florida’s repeal on July 1, 2000 of its motorcycle helmet use law for riders over age 21. It finds that helmet use dropped substantially while cyclist fatalities increased by 81 percent comparing 2001-2003 to 1997-1999, compared to +48 percent nationally. Hospital admissions for head injuries increased by 82 percent; the average head injury treatment cost increased by almost $10,000, to $45,602. Similar analyses also showed significant increases for Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas, which also repealed their helmet use laws. Further, helmet use “declined markedly” among riders under age 21, who were still covered by the law, while fatalities in this age group nearly tripled in the three years after the law change.

Posted by MVHAP at 10:57 AM | TrackBack


Documents showing a conflict between the positions of Ford and its subsidiary, Volvo, concerning the need for and feasibility of roof crush prevention measures, have been removed from a public docket by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at the request of Volvo. The documents were in evidence during a Florida injury lawsuit involving roof crush to a Ford Explorer during a rollover. Visit this Department of Transportation site for information about the submission of the documents to the docket, which involves NHTSA’s current proposal to amend its roof crush standard, FMVSS 216, and for examples of press coverage of the matter. For NHTSA’s action withdrawing the documents, go to this DOT site.

Posted by MVHAP at 10:50 AM | TrackBack


Legislation introduced by Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and John Sununu (R-NH) and a current NHTSA rulemaking proposal both are meant to reduce deaths of pedestrian children from vehicle impacts. According the bill’s sponsors and supporters, the legislation would direct the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations to ensure that power windows automatically reverse direction when they detect an obstruction to prevent children from being trapped, injured or killed, to provide drivers with a means of detecting the presence of a person or object behind their vehicle, and to provide for the vehicle service brake to be engaged to prevent vehicles from unintentionally rolling away. The bill would also establish a child safety information program to collect non-traffic, non-crash incident data and disseminate information to parents about these hazards and ways to mitigate them. For details see http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=248015&& The NHTSA rulemaking proposal for application to straight trucks is intended to “alert drivers to persons and objects directly behind the vehicle, thereby reducing backing-related deaths and injuries” through installation either of mirror systems or rear video systems. Children are “the primary focus” of the proposal, according to NHTSA. About 100 children are killed annually in vehicle-backing incidents, and the Centers for Disease Control has estimated that nearly 7,500 children aged one to fourteen years old were treated in U.S. hospitals for nonfatal vehicle-backing injuries between 2001 and 2003. A Consumers Union fact sheet provides additional data and describes alternative technologies for reducing vehicle-backing injuries by motor vehicles of various kinds. NHTSA’s current proposal would not cover SUVs, which are implicated in such injuries to children.

Posted by MVHAP at 10:47 AM | TrackBack


According to news reports, General Motors has disclosed it is recalling nearly 106,000 SUVs in the United States and Canada to fix a rear door latch that may not close properly due to corrosion. The 105,893 vehicles affected by the potential safety defect included Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT and GMC Envoy XL SUVs from the 2002-2003 model years, GM spokesman Alan Adler is quoted as saying, adding that one alleged injury had been caused by the faulty door latch. For more info start at NHTSA’s recall website.

Posted by MVHAP at 10:45 AM


The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has announced that three new or redesigned midsize cars earned "double best pick" designations for very good overall performance in both front and side tests it conducted. They are the 2006 Audi A3, 2006 Volkswagen Passat, and 2006 Subaru Legacy. The 2005-06 Ford Five Hundred/Mercury Montego, a large car, earned good overall ratings in both tests but didn't earn the "best pick" designation in the side impact. IIHS also announced the results of its first crash-test evaluation of the performance of minivans in side impact crash tests. Three minivans with standard side airbags - Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest, and Honda Odyssey - earned the Institute's highest rating of good (side airbags were optional in the 2005 Sienna). The Sienna and Quest earned the added designation of "best pick" for side crash protection. The Sienna also is a "best pick" in the Institute's frontal offset test, so this minivan with side airbags is a "double best pick" for front and side crashworthiness. The Ford Freestar with optional side airbags earned a rating of acceptable. When the Freestar and Mazda MPV were tested without their optional side airbags, both earned the lowest rating of poor (the MPV with optional side airbags wasn't tested; see note* below). To see the detailed test results, visit the IIHS website.

Posted by MVHAP at 10:42 AM


According to U.S. News and World Report, a Connecticut non-profit group, Informed for Life, has released what it terms as “combined RISK scores” for many 2006 model-year vehicles. The group's scores are said to use a calculated composite of NHTSA and IIHS crash ratings, weighted according to actual fatality risk in accidents, along with known factors that raise the fatality risk in vehicles, like weight, the presence of stability control, and the presence of a side-curtain airbag. The group’s founder, a mechanical engineer, reportedly believes that the ratings now published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are inadequate; "Automakers have figured out that safety is a selling point," he is quoted as saying. Referring to the frequent mention of crash ratings in ads, he stated: "Five stars is such a small part of the overall picture. You need to be looking at so much more." The group’s ratings and an explanation of their system can be found at Informed for Life.

Posted by MVHAP at 10:20 AM